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About moral backbone
Gila Svirsky, Israel
March 3, 2002
So who's winning? It's been a blood-soaked weekend: Since Thursday,
Israeli army killed 26 Palestinians in refugee camps (and 230 wounded),
and Palestinian extremists killed 20 Israelis (and dozens wounded). Add
that together and you have a staggering amount of heartache, on either
side. Everybody's losing.
Children on both sides, needless to say, were also killed. A light has
gone out, permanently, for these families.
As I watched the ultra-Orthodox walk around the area of the bomb in
Jerusalem scraping stray bits of flesh off the sidewalk for later burial,
two Israeli commentators explained that this bomb was revenge for the
attack on the refugee camps. This morning's radio news, however, carried
only the government spin: The Palestinian bombing in Jerusalem last night
would have taken place whether or not the Israeli army had invaded the
refugee camps. What are they saying? Answer: That our killing has no
relationship whatsoever with their killing. A theory of cause and no
Do Sharon and his government actually believe that brutality will convince
the Palestinians to give up? Do the Palestinian extremists actually
believe that suicide bombings will convince Israelis to leave the region?
There is little evidence to support the unusual theory of human nature
held by either side.
Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, more and more people have begun to despair
of the deepening sea of blood:
* Sharon's popularity rating, as measured by the polls, has dipped under
50% for the first time since his election. Smelling opportunity, a group
of powerful businessmen and semi-political academics are brewing a new political party, intended to present a liberal alternative to the current
Likud-Labor regime (liberal in the original sense— capitalist,
pro-peace—it's good for business—and quasi-democratic, meaning that
women, Mizrahim, and minorities are excluded so far—to be welcomed when
the electoral blunder is brought to their attention).
* The Saudi Arabian peace initiative is a wonderful opportunity. Although
Sharon will easily sidestep it politically, my hope is that his
determination to brush it off will expose him to more Israelis as "not a partner for peace"—unwilling to negotiate territorial compromise of
significance, even in exchange for Israel's lifelong dream: peace with all
* Israeli peace organizations and human rights movements have intensified
their activity—marches, vigils, ads in papers, public campaigns. A
peace march last night organized by Peace Now, but attended by members of
many other peace organizations, continued its rally, despite the bodies
exploding a few streets away, the speakers stating boldly and
courageously, in the Israeli reality, that the root of the violence is the
brutal Israeli occupation. In a few hours, another rally with the same
message will take place in Tel Aviv.
* The number of Israeli combat officers and soldiers who refuse to serve
the occupation has risen above 300, and continues to shake the foundations
of belief that Israel has been engaged in an "enlightened occupation".
The army has launched a campaign to delegitimize them, so far jailing two,
but voices in support have also been sounded.
I'll close with one such voice—an excerpt from an op-ed in today's
Ha'aretz newspaper written by Michael Ben-Yair, Israel's Attorney General
from 1993 to 1996, on the subject of occupation and whether or not the
soldiers who refuse to serve in the army are indeed lawbreakers:
"...This is a harsh reality that is causing us to lose the moral base of
our existence as a free, just society and to jeopardize Israel's
long-range survival. Israel's security cannot be based only on the sword;
it must rather be based on our principles of moral justice and on peace with our neighbors—those living next door and those living a little
further away. An occupation regime undermines those principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace. Thus, that regime endangers
...It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF
reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories. In their
eyes, the occupation regime is evil and military service in the occupied
territories is evil. In their eyes, military service in the occupied
territories, which places soldiers in situations forcing them to commit immoral acts, is evil, and, according to their conscience, they cannot be
party to such acts. Thus, their refusal to serve is an act of conscience
that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime. History's
verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral
May it restore our moral backbone, amen.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.